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Tom's Blog

Super Fruity: Tart Cherries Are a Nutritional Powerhouse

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Now more than ever, Americans are aware of health and nutrition and look to their diets as a means to get nutrients naturally. According to top trend forecasters, antioxidants remain a major indicator of health-promoting foods, with nine out of ten adults aware of antioxidants, and one-third making a strong effort to consume more, according to the study "Mintel 2009; Multi-Sponsor Surveys, 2010."

Known for their powerhouse of antioxidants, tart cherries have emerged as one of today's hottest super fruits. Today there are more than 50 scientific studies specifically on tart cherries, and with the help of leading health expert Dr. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, the cherry industry recently launched "The Red Report," a new scientific look at the power of tart cherries.

 "The power of this super fruit is undeniable," says Dr. Bazilian, author of "The SuperFoodsRx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients." Dr. Bazilian explains that what is really amazing is how far tart cherries have come over the last few years. "For example, the fruit has long been anecdotally associated with pain relief benefits. Today, there's a strong and significant body of evidence backing that up."

Beyond their health benefits, tart cherries are shaping key nutrition trends. "A growing body of research suggests that the powerful antioxidants in tart cherries are linked to a broad range of benefits—anti-inflammation, heart health, pain relief, exercise recovery and more. Some of the latest reports call out the tart cherry as 'the' super fruit to watch," says Dr. Bazilian.

Source: www.choosecherries.com.

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Word of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Appraisal. A formal estimate of property value conducted by a professional qualified to make such an opinion.
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Question of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Q: Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?

A: Chances are you will have to pay the going rate for contractors in your area. Architects or designers will typically cost 12 to 20 percent more.

But remember you will want a home improvement that is done right the first time. That said, there are still ways you can save if you do decide to work with a contractor:

- Shop around for the most reasonable bid - not necessarily the cheapest.
- Ask friends and family if the contractors they refer stuck to budget.
- Root out hidden costs written into contracts.
- Insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself.
- Compare payment alternatives – flat vs. hourly rates, for example – and negotiate the more reasonable of the two.
- Do part of the project yourself, such as some disassembly or prep work.
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Consumer Reports: Advice for Safe Use of Herbal Remedies

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Botanicas are flourishing in many U.S. urban areas, as consumers look to Botanicas as a resource for complementary medicine—mainly herbal remedies—Consumer Reports offers some advice on the safe use of these treatments which are not subject to close government oversight.

"Botanicas are important purveyors of health care and wellness in the Hispanic community because they offer traditional cultural connections that can give emotional and spiritual support when fighting a disease or treating a chronic condition," says Jose Luis Mosquera, M.D., medical adviser to Consumer Reports and a board certified physician trained in integrative-medicine.

Botanicas sell medicinal plants, religious objects and other artifacts for physical and spiritual healing. When it comes to using herbs on a longer term basis to treat more serious chronic conditions, Consumer Reports recommends proceeding with caution.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up efforts to develop "good manufacturing practices" to address concerns such as product purity and quality control, none of these recommendations are obligatory. That puts the onus on consumers to be vigilant about the safe use of herbal remedies.

Here are some tips for safe use of herbal remedies:
• Natural does not mean safe. There are natural plants, such as Belladona and some mushrooms that can be poisonous. Some herbs and supplements may cause harm if you are pregnant, nursing, preparing for surgery, or taking prescription medicines.
• When purchasing pills, look for the USP Verified label. Since there is little or no oversight on industry compliance with the FDA's "good manufacturing practices," the consumer of dietary supplements must exert constant vigilance. If you're shopping for supplements manufactured in pill form, look for the small number of herbal products tested by the United States Pharmacopeia that bear the words "USP Verified" on their label. Those have been tested for identity, purity, potency, and dangerous contaminants.
• Don't mix medications and herbs on your own. Herbal remedies can decrease the effectiveness of some prescription drugs while others can have the opposite effect, heightening the action of a prescription drug. For example, garlic can increase the blood thinning effects of anti-coagulant and anti-platelet drugs and might increase the effects of certain diabetes drugs. Before taking herbs, talk to your doctor about the implications of combining them with your prescription medications.
• Seek a trained practitioner. A trained practitioner understands the intricacies of each herb and the fact that not all forms of an herbal medicine produce the same effects. For example, tea made from saw palmetto probably has no health benefits since the active compounds don't dissolve in water. In addition, different parts of the same herb can have different effects. Dandelion leaves may act as a diuretic, but the roots act as a laxative. Remedies made from sassafras root may contain safrole, a noted carcinogen, and even those that say "safrole free" may not be.
• Be wary of private label supplements. Doctors and practitioners who sell their own branded products may have a conflict of interest. The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians advise that if physicians decide to distribute non-prescription health related products to their patients, they should provide them free of charge or at cost. This removes the temptation of personal profit than can interfere with a physician's objective clinical judgment.
• Consider seeing an integrative physician. Integrative medicine is a holistic method, based on clinical evidence, where patients' traditions and cultural background are taken into consideration. Its practice has gained traction over the years; the report notes that 50 academic health centers belong to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.

This report was made possible by a grant from the Airborne Cy Pres Fund, which was established through a legal settlement of a national class-action lawsuit regarding deceptive advertising practices.

Source: www.ConsumerReports.org
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Six Questions to Ask When Shopping for Homeowners Insurance

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Being an informed consumer means not only reading your homeowners insurance policy closely but also asking experts what constitutes the right type, and amount, of coverage you need for your home, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Besides knowing the basics of what a standard homeowners insurance policy covers, consumers should ask a series of questions, and receive satisfactory answers to each of them, before buying a new policy, or renewing an existing one," says Michael Barry, vice president, Media Relations, I.I.I.
A qualified insurance agent or insurance company representative can guide you through your choices.

Here are six basic questions everyone should ask before buying or renewing a homeowners insurance policy:
How much would it cost to rebuild my home in its current location in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of building a new home from scratch. Your insurance agent or insurance company representative will have knowledge of your neighborhood, and familiarity with the construction materials used when your home was originally built and can accurately calculate this cost. In general, homeowners policies cover partial or total damages caused by fire, hurricane, hail, lightning or any other disaster listed in your policy. Flood and earthquake-related losses must be insured separately because both perils are excluded in standard homeowners insurance policies.

How much is the personal property in my home worth
in the event of a total loss? Your homeowners insurance policy should cover the cost of replacing all personal property (furniture, appliances, clothing) should it be stolen or destroyed by fire, hurricane or another insured disaster. Most companies provide personal property coverage equal to about 50 to 70 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of your dwelling. So if you have $100,000 worth of dwelling protection, most insurers would recommend $50,000 to $70,000 worth of personal property coverage. The best way to determine if this recommendation is appropriate for your specific situation is to conduct a home inventory.

How much liability protection do I need? Liability covers you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you, or your family members, cause to other people. It also pays for damage caused by your pets. The liability portion of your policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit of your policy. You are also covered not just in your home, but anywhere in the world. Liability limits generally start at about $100,000. Most insurance agents and company representatives recommend that you purchase at least $300,000 worth of liability protection. If you have significant assets and need more liability protection than is offered under the standard homeowners policy limits, ask your agent about umbrella liability.

What level of additional living expense coverage do I need? The Additional Living Expenses (ALE) provision is found in standard homeowners insurance policies. It pays for the costs of living away from home if you cannot reside there due to damage from an insured disaster. ALE covers hotel bills, meals and other expenses over and above your customary living expenses. ALE coverage differs from company to company. Many policies provide coverage equal to about 20 percent of your dwelling protection. For example, if the structure of your home is insured for $100,000, you would have $20,000 of ALE coverage. Some companies impose a time limitation, such as 12 to 24 months.

Should I buy a separate flood and/or earthquake insurance policy?
There were numerous flooding events and earthquakes in the U.S. in 2011, but relatively few Americans had coverage for either type of natural disaster because these perils are excluded from standard homeowners insurance policies. Check with your insurance agent or insurance company representative to see whether you might need specialized coverage beyond your standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood coverage for homeowners is available from the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurers. Earthquake coverage is usually available in the form of a supplemental policy from your insurance company, or, in California, from the California Earthquake Authority. Fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes following an earthquake is covered under standard homeowners policies in most states.

Do I qualify for any discounts? If you have smoke detectors, burglar alarms and/or dead-bolt locks in your home, you can often get a premium rate discount. Sophisticated sprinkler systems and alarms that ring at monitoring stations often reduce your homeowners insurance premium, too. Ask your agent or company representative about discounts available to you. If you are at least 55 years old and retired, for instance, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. If you have completely modernized your plumbing or electrical system recently, a few companies may provide a price break.

Source: www.iii.org
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Is Retirement Going Extinct?

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Are workers really retiring anymore? A new study shows 57 percent of workers age 60 plus surveyed said they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company, showing that retirement no longer means the end of one's career. The nationwide survey was conducted by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder and PrimeCB.com, CareerBuilder's job site for mature workers and retirees. It included more than 800 U.S. workers age 60 and older and more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resources professionals between November 9 and December 5, 2011.

When asked how soon they think they can retire from their current job, one-in-ten (11 percent) respondents said they don't think they'll ever be able to retire. Other responses included:
• 1-2 years – 26 percent
• 3-4 years – 23 percent
• 5-6 years – 22 percent
• 7-8 years – 7 percent
• 9-10 years – 7 percent
• More than 10 years – 4 percent

While an increasing number of mature workers are putting off retirement, the good news is that more employers are looking to hire more seasoned staff. According to the survey, 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers age 50 plus this year, while 41 percent said they hired workers age 50 plus in 2011. Seventy-five percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 plus, with 59 percent of those employers saying it's because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.

"Whether mature workers are motivated by financial concerns or simply enjoy going to work every day, we're seeing more people move away from the traditional definition of retirement and seek 'rehirement,'" says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. "At the same time, employers are seeing the value these mature workers can bring to an organization, from their intellectual capital to their mentoring and training capabilities. In a highly competitive job market, mature workers can use these skills to their advantage."

Mature workers can find job-search success by emphasizing the qualities that set them apart from other workers. PrimeCB.com offers these tips:

Leverage your professional and real-world experience – When updating your resume or interviewing for a job, think about your experience in terms of both work-related and life skills. Whether it's your strong leadership skills or your wherewithal to weather a tough economy, play up the strengths that come with having more years under your belt.
Bring value to your company in other ways – If you're looking to stay with your current company beyond retirement, find new ways to contribute to the organization, outside of your day-to-day tasks. Spearhead a mentorship program or offer to train new hires.
Consider part-time or freelance work – For workers who aren't ready to completely stop working, part-time employment may be a good solution. Forty-nine percent of workers age 60 plus said they will most likely work part-time once retired. Check out job boards, talk to staffing firms and tap into your social and professional networks for part-time, freelance or temporary work.

Source: www.careerbuilder.com.
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How to Get New Tax Credit for Hiring Veterans

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

You may have heard about General Electric's plan to hire 5,000 veterans in the next five years. While the move may be motivated by moral responsibility, the company has a financial incentive, too. There are new tax credits for hiring veterans.

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act, signed into law in November, extended up to $9,600 in tax credits to employers who hire unemployed veterans. The rates are per-employee and apply to qualified veterans who begin work before January 1, 2013.

The law added two categories of veterans to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Under the changes, employers may be able to deduct up to the following amounts:
• $2,400 for a veteran that had been unemployed for more than 4 weeks;
• $5,600 for a veteran who had been out of work for more than 6 months; and
• $9,600 for a veteran who had been out of work for more than 6 months and has a service-related disability.

Whether or not a veteran qualifies depends on a variety of factors. This includes when they were last on active duty; whether they receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and how many hours they work. Employers must therefore obtain certification before claiming a tax credit for hiring a veteran.

Because the law is so new, the IRS is continually releasing updated instructions and guidance on the rules. If you think you have an employee who qualifies under the new regulations, talk to a tax attorney or your accountant about how you can get a tax credit for hiring a veteran.

Source: www.findlaw.com
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Word of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Annual percentage rate (APR). Combines the interest rate with other loan costs, such as points and loan fees, into a single figure that shows the true annual cost of borrowing.
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Question of the Day

February 17, 2012 6:26 pm

Q: How do I avoid being ripped off by a less than reputable contractor?

A: According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are several ways to spot less than reputable contractors because these hucksters tend to do the following:

- Only accept cash payments;
- Pressure you for an immediate decision;
- Ask you to pay for the entire job up-front;
- Solicit door-to-door;
- Offer exceptionally long guarantees;
- Just happen to have materials left over from a previous job;
- Ask you to get the required building permits;
- Not list a business number in the local telephone directory;
- Offer you discounts for finding other customers;
- Suggest that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home.
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Homeowners Use the Sun to Save on Winter Heating Costs

February 17, 2012 4:26 pm

Fluctuating energy costs can make it difficult for homeowners to budget their heating bills during the cold winter months. That is why many are looking into alternative sources of energy for water heating. One source that is gaining popularity is solar thermal energy, a system that uses energy from the sun to heat a water "tank" that then distributes the warmed water throughout the home. A solar thermal energy system can save money over the long run, and there are government programs that can help reduce installation costs in the short run.

"Solar thermal utilizes the sun's energy to create heat, so the operating price remains steady over time compared to conventional heat sources," says Nigel Cotton, Solar Water Heating Global Leader of the International Copper Association (ICA) and founder of Solarthermalworld.org, a Web portal for solar thermal professionals.

Cotton went on to explain that most solar thermal hot water heating systems in the home reduce dependence on conventional energy sources over the long-run, but there is an upfront installation cost which needs to be recognized. That is why it pays to learn about the variety of governmental programs that homebuyers can take advantage of to reduce the cost of installation.

The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) currently offers homeowners installing a solar thermal system a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of their system. Locally, one common incentive is the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows municipalities to finance installations through property taxes.

"Installing a solar thermal system is attractive to many people because it utilizes a renewable natural resource—the sun—to provide warmth," concludes Bärbel Epp, Solarthermalworld.org newsletter editor. "Assuming that energy prices continue to rise, solar heating systems create a lasting financial benefit for families."

Source: Solarthermalworld.org
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